Question No. 276 withdrawn.

Jobseeker's Allowance Appeals

Question No. 278 withdrawn.

Questions (277)

Pat Deering

Question:

277. Deputy Pat Deering asked the Minister for Social Protection when a person (details supplied) in County Carlow will receive a decision on an appeal for jobseeker's allowance; and if she will expedite an answer. [11252/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Social)

The Social Welfare Appeals Office has advised me that an appeal by the person concerned was referred to an Appeals Officer on 15 January 2013, who will make a summary decision on the appeal based on the documentary evidence presented or, if required, hold an oral hearing. The Social Welfare Appeals Office functions independently of the Minister for Social Protection and of the Department and is responsible for determining appeals against decisions on social welfare entitlements.

Question No. 278 withdrawn.

Carer's Allowance Appeals

Questions (279)

Noel Harrington

Question:

279. Deputy Noel Harrington asked the Minister for Social Protection if she will review the application for carer's allowance in respect of a person (details supplied) to include further medical evidence submitted subsequent to the original decision by the deciding officer; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11279/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Social)

I confirm that the department received an application for carer’s allowance from the person in question on the 2nd of August 2011. An information request was made on 20th of February 2012 seeking Habitual Residence questionnaire to be filled in full, e.g. a P45 and a letter from employer confirming the person in question ceased work and date he ceased work. An Information request was made to Social Welfare Inspector on 20th of February 2012. The requested information was received on the 6th of March 2012 from the person in question.

The person in question was refused carers allowance on medical grounds on the 25th of April 2012. . The person concerned appealed this decision. On the 16th of November 2012 file was submitted to the Social Welfare Appeals office for determination. The Social Welfare Appeals Office carried out all the necessary investigations on this claim and subsequently the appeal was disallowed on 12th of February 2013, as the qualifying conditions for carers allowance have not been met. The Social Welfare Appeals Office wrote to the person in question on 12th of February 2013 with this decision. The Social Welfare Appeals Officer's decision is final.

Disability Allowance Appeals

Questions (280)

Pat Deering

Question:

280. Deputy Pat Deering asked the Minister for Social Protection when a decision on a disability allowance appeal will be made in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Carlow. [11280/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Social)

The Social Welfare Appeals Office has advised me that the disability allowance claim of the person concerned was disallowed following an assessment by a Medical Assessor who expressed the opinion that he was medically unsuitable for the allowance. An appeal was registered on 2 January 2013 and in accordance with the statutory procedures the relevant department papers and the comments of the Deciding Officer on the matter raised in the appeal have been sought. In that context, an assessment by another Medical Assessor will be carried out. The Social Welfare Appeals Office functions independently of the Minister for Social and Family Affairs and of the Department and is responsible for determining appeals against decisions on social welfare entitlements.

National Internship Scheme Data

Questions (281)

John Halligan

Question:

281. Deputy John Halligan asked the Minister for Social Protection the number of persons who took to JobBridge placements in Waterford city and county since the programme began; the number of those who completed a JobBridge internship in Waterford who went directly into full-time positions; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11291/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Social)

In Waterford, there have been a total of 522 internships since the scheme came into operation. 206 of those internships are ongoing as at 28 February 2013 with 316 internships completed at this point in time. With regard to progression into employment, the interim evaluation of JobBridge conducted by Indecon International Economic Consultants (published on 5 October, 2012) found that 61% of all JobBridge finishers progressed into employment with either their host organisation or another employer within 5 months of finishing their internship. This suggests JobBridge is an appropriate labour market intervention. Further information on outcomes will be ascertained in the final evaluation report. It is anticipated that this report will be available in the coming weeks.

Carer's Allowance Appeals

Question No. 283 withdrawn.

Questions (282)

James Bannon

Question:

282. Deputy James Bannon asked the Minister for Social Protection the position regarding an application for carer's allowance in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Longford; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11296/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Social)

The Social Welfare Appeals Office has advised me that the appeal from the person concerned was referred to an Appeals Officer who proposes to hold an oral hearing in this case. Every effort will be made to hear the case as quickly as possible and the appellant will be informed when arrangements have been made. The Social Welfare Appeals Office functions independently of the Minister for Social Protection and of the Department and is responsible for determining appeals against decisions on social welfare entitlements.

Question No. 283 withdrawn.

Youth Unemployment Measures

Questions (284)

Micheál Martin

Question:

284. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Minister for Social Protection if she will outline the actions her Department is taking in respect of tackling youth unemployment; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6830/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Social)

Young people, typically, suffer disproportionately from job losses in recessions as they tend to have entered employment more recently, are more likely to hold temporary contracts and to be employed in cyclically sensitive industries than older workers. There were 68,000 young unemployed, on average, in 2012, made up of 18,500 aged 15-19 and 49,500 aged 20-24. Overall, the under-25 age group had an unemployment rate of 30% (40% for 15-19 year-olds and 28% for 20-24 year-olds). This compares to an unemployment rate of 13.5% for prime age workers (ages 25–54). Of particular concern is the continued increase in the share of youth unemployed who are out of work for more than one year. They now account for 2 out of 5 all youth unemployed. In this context, it is a welcome development that the official labour market figures published by the CSO this week indicated that the number of young unemployed at the end of 2012, at 59,000, showed a reduction of almost 9,000 on the same time a year earlier. It is to be hoped that this is the beginning of a sustained downward movement in youth unemployment as the economy recovers.

The Government’s primary strategy to tackle youth unemployment is to create the environment for a strong economic recovery by promoting competitiveness and productivity. Economic recovery will underpin jobs growth. Past experience suggests that youth unemployment, which tends to rise relatively rapidly in a downturn, can be expected to fall relatively rapidly during the recovery.

In addition to promoting economic recovery, the Government recognises the need for interim measures to support the young unemployed and keep young jobseekers close to the labour market. There are five main approaches being taken to tackle youth unemployment: education, training, job search assistance/guidance, work experience, and encouraging job creation. These actions range across a number of Departments and Agencies.

Looking specifically at my Department, the Back to Education Allowance scheme run by my Department provides income maintenance for unemployed people returning to further or higher education. Over 6,500 young people participated in the BTEA in the last academic year.

In terms of job-search assistance, some 25,500 young people registered with Employment Services in 2012, representing 36% of all registrants. Registering with Employment Services gives job-seekers access to guidance interviews, job search assistance, and training courses, as well as self-service job-seeking options.

Under the National Employment Action Plan (EAP) persons between the ages of 18 and 65 years who are approaching 3 months on the Live Register are identified by the Department of Social Protection and referred to Employment Services for interview with the aim of assisting them to enter/re-enter the labour market. In 2012, there were some 33,000 referrals of under 25s to the EAP, affecting approximately 26,000 individual jobseekers (those who do not attend initially are referred again). Of those referred, 68% of clients had signed off the Live Register by the end of the year.

The Pathways to Work initiative has specific targets for increasing the number of people who are long-term unemployed moving into employment and reducing the average length of time spent on the Live Register. As two out of five young unemployed are long-term unemployed, these targets are pertinent to young people.

There are a number of schemes/programmes available that are focussed on work experience. The most relevant for young people are JobBridge (the National Internship Scheme), and its predecessor the Work Placement Programme. Over 1,500 young people are currently participating on these schemes. The total number of placements of young people on JobBridge during 2012 was 2,700.

Young people will also continue to benefit from the reduced rate of employer’s PRSI, the purpose of which is to support job creation, as well as from the upcoming JobsPlus initiative which will replace Revenue Job Assist and the Employer Job (PRSI) Incentive Scheme.

In the December Budget, funding was secured for an additional 10,000 places this year across a range of programmes -- including JobBridge, TÚS and Community Employment. About a quarter of these places will be earmarked to be taken up by unemployed young people.

Finally the European Commission has proposed a Council Recommendation on a European-wide approach to a “youth guarantee. The Council Recommendation -- which received political agreement from EU employment ministers last week -- recommends that each Member State should ensure that young people receive a quality offer of employment or of continued education, an apprenticeship or traineeship within four months of becoming unemployed. The Recommendation will also need to be adopted formally by the Council at a later stage in Ireland's Presidency -- most likely in May.

While Member States are encouraged to implement the Recommendation as soon as possible, it is recognised that implementation will need to be more gradual in countries with higher levels of youth unemployment and particularly severe budgetary problems. In advance of the anticipated adoption of the Recommendation, the government will review the current range of youth employment and training policies in Ireland to assess what measures will need to be taken to commence the gradual implementation of the guarantee. This will include the identification of what would be the appropriate timescale for implementation in Ireland's current employment and budgetary circumstances.

Funding for measures needed to implement the guarantee – as is the case with existing programmes – will come largely from countries' own budgetary resources, supplemented by EU funding such as the European Social Fund (ESF) and the Youth Employment Initiative which has been included in the Multiannual Financial Framework for the EU agreed recently by the Council, and will provide €6 billion for youth employment measures across the 27 Member States over the seven-year period 2014-2020.

Disability Allowance Appeals

Question No. 286 withdrawn.

Questions (285)

Seán Kenny

Question:

285. Deputy Seán Kenny asked the Minister for Social Protection when a decision will issue on a disability allowance appeal in respect of a person (details supplied) in Dublin 5. [11399/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Social)

The Social Welfare Appeals Office has advised me that an appeal by the person concerned was referred to an Appeals Officer on 25 January 2013, who will make a summary decision on the appeal based on the documentary evidence presented or, if required, hold an oral hearing. The Social Welfare Appeals Office functions independently of the Minister for Social Protection and of the Department and is responsible for determining appeals against decisions on social welfare entitlements.

Question No. 286 withdrawn.

Departmental Staff Recruitment

Questions No. 288 and 289 withdrawn.

Questions (287)

Martin Ferris

Question:

287. Deputy Martin Ferris asked the Minister for Social Protection if the current vacancy of an information officer in Tralee social welfare office, County Kerry, has been filled. [11413/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Social)

The staffing needs of all offices of the Department are regularly reviewed, having regard to workloads and the competing demands arising, taking account of the employment control framework (ECF) target, as determined by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. A number of vacancies arose in Tralee local office due to staff retirements. The posts identified as critical have been filled. Local management assign staff to duties to meet the business needs and although there is currently no dedicated information officer, it is part of the role of the staff member on reception duties and all other staff to provide information to customers.

Questions No. 288 and 289 withdrawn.

Household Benefits Scheme

Questions (290)

Brendan Smith

Question:

290. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Social Protection if she will outline the changes to the household benefits package in budget 2012 and budget 2013; the expenditure incurred under these schemes in 2012; the estimated expenditure for 2013; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11457/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Social)

The household benefits package comprises the electricity or gas allowances, the telephone allowance and the free television licence. The package is generally available to people living in the State, aged 66 years or over who are in receipt of a social welfare type payment or who satisfy a means test. The package is also available to carers and people with disabilities under the age of 66 who are in receipt of certain welfare type payments. The package is currently paid to approximately 410,000 customers. The allocation for 2013 is €284 million and the estimated expenditure on the scheme in 2012 was €372 million. The following changes were made to the household benefits package in recent Budgets:

Budget 2011

A saving in the household benefits budget allocation was provided for by the previous Government in Budget 2011 but the measures were not specified at the time:

- The number of free units provided under the electricity and gas allowance was reduced to the level at the start of 2007 (from 2,400 to 1,800). This change was effective from September 2011.

- The telephone allowance was reduced to €22.22 per month (from €25.91 per month). However customers continued to receive €26.86 of value on their bills. This change was effective from September 2011.

Budget 2012

- New applicants for carer’s allowance, who are not living with the person for whom they are providing care, are no longer entitled to household benefits. The person receiving care may be entitled to household benefits in their own right. This change was effective from April 2012.

Budget 2013

- Electricity allowance was restructured and is now based on the average best rate (minus the PSO) available for 150 units per month from Electric Ireland, Bord Gáis Éireann and Airtricity. The new rate for both the electricity and gas allowances is €35 per month. The change is effective from January 2013 and will generate savings of approximately €37.6 million in a full year.

- Telephone allowance reduced from €22.50 to €9.50 per month. This change is effective from January 2013 and will generate savings of approximately €61 million in a full year.

The change to the electricity and gas elements of the household benefits package in Budget 2013 will bring significant savings while aiming to encourage customers to achieve better savings through greater mobility and access to the most competitive rates. The cost of the electricity and gas allowances has risen from €110 million in 2005 to an estimated outturn of €201 million in 2012, an increase of 83% over seven years. In the current economic climate these increases were unsustainable.

The Affordable Energy Strategy drew attention to the fact that customers in receipt of household benefits were much less likely than other customers to switch energy supplier to obtain better value. Only 16% of social welfare customers have switched companies compared to 42% nationally. There will also be some administrative efficiency gained through simplification of the scheme with one payment rate instead of five. The change to the telephone allowance is a cost saving measure. The numbers in receipt of the telephone allowance has also increased significantly in recent years, while the nature of the telephone market has been transformed with deregulation, mobile services and bundled services including television, broadband and telephone. There is a wide variety of deals available, for example, it is possible to get a standard pay-as-you-go brand name mobile telephone for as little as €19.99 in large retailers.

Rent Supplement Scheme Applications

Questions (291)

Patrick Nulty

Question:

291. Deputy Patrick Nulty asked the Minister for Social Protection if an application for rent supplement will be expedited in respect of a person (details supplied) in Dublin 15; the reason for the delay; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11464/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Social)

The person concerned applied for rent supplement twice in 2012. Her first application in April was not approved as she did not furnish either an assessment of her housing need by Fingal County Council, or evidence of having lived in rented accommodation for six months in the year leading up to the date of application. These are required conditions in order to qualify for rent supplement. However, when she made her second application in September 2012 she did provide an assessment of her housing need by the Council, but her application was incomplete and was returned to her on 3 October 2012 for completion. My Department has received no further communication from the person concerned since then. It remains open to her to contact her local Rents Unit and provide the required information regarding her present circumstances in order that her application for rent supplement can be assessed.

Appointments to State Boards

Questions (292)

Michael Healy-Rae

Question:

292. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Social Protection the number of appointments she has made from March 2011 to January 2013 to State boards; in the case of each appointment, the number of appointments that were made to members of the general public who submitted a curriculum vitae for the appointment; the number of direct appointments she made; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11481/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Social)

The statutory bodies operating under the aegis of the Department of Social Protection are the Citizens Information Board, the Pensions Board, the Pensions Ombudsman (which does not have a board) and the Social Welfare Tribunal.

Citizens Information Board

I have made three appointments to the Citizens Information Board since coming into office. Mr. Eugene Mc Erlean was appointed with effect from 7 September 2011 following a public request for expressions of interest from suitably qualified and experienced individuals in line with the procedures for appointment to State Boards and bodies agreed by Government in May 2011. This appointment was processed by the Public Appointments Service (PAS), who had received a curriculum vitae from the successful applicant. The other two appointments did not require public advertisement as one was the Department’s representative to the Board, Ms. Fiona Ward, first appointed on 1 November 2011, and the other was the CIB’s staff representative to the Board, Mr. David Stratton, who was appointed on 5 November 2012. This was in accordance with the governing legislation: the Comhairle Act 2000, as amended by the Citizens Information Act 2007. Arrangements are being made to seek public expressions of interest in two existing board vacancies which will also be filled in accordance with the procedures for appointment to State boards and bodies agreed by Government in May 2011.

Pensions Board

No appointments have been made by me to the Pensions Board since I took office. The Public Service Reform Programme provides for a critical review of the integration of the regulatory functions of the Pensions Board with the Financial Regulator and the merging of the Pensions Ombudsman with the Financial Services Ombudsman. The Critical Review Group, established to carry out this review, is finalising a draft report with recommendations.

Social Welfare Tribunal

The Board of the Social Welfare Tribunal is appointed for a three year term. It consists of a Chairperson and four ordinary members. Legislation provides that the four ordinary members of the Tribunal are appointed by the Minister on the recommendation of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) and the Irish Business Employer Confederation (IBEC), with two nominations from each. There have been 6 appointments to the board since March 2011. One of the ICTU members of the Tribunal resigned in 2011 and on ICTU’s nomination, a replacement member was appointed from 24 October 2011. All appointments were due for renewal on 4th October 2012. Four members of the previous board and one new person, nominated by IBEC, were appointed to the new board, by me, effective from 5 October 2012. Both bodies had forwarded their nominations which were duly approved and appointed by me.

The Chairperson is sourced by the Department of Social Protection by way of a recommendation from the Labour Court with regard to a particular candidate’s suitability. The Chairperson, who was re-appointed in 2012, has held the position since 2003. He is a former Rights Commissioner with extensive experience in dispute resolution and has been proven to hold all of the qualifications, skills and competencies necessary for the position. The revised Code of Practice for the Governance of State Bodies does not apply to the Social Welfare Tribunal due to its structure and purpose .

Invalidity Pension Appeals

Questions (293)

John Deasy

Question:

293. Deputy John Deasy asked the Minister for Social Protection the reason for the delay in issuing files from the invalidity pension section to the appeals office; if she will examine the case of a person (details supplied) in County Waterford who requested an appeal on 27 March 2012 and whose file has not yet reached the appeals office; if she will ensure that information between the sections in her Department are passed on within a reasonable amount of time; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11498/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Social)

Invalidity pension section has been involved in a business process improvement review and backlog elimination programme. This programme has led to a significant reduction in the number of invalidity pension claims awaiting decision, down from 7007 claims at end May 2012 to 2593 claims at end Feb 2013. In addition, new claims are now processed on receipt with a decision being made based on information provided or, if this is not possible, further medical evidence or additional information is requested and a decision is made on receipt.

As a consequence of the very high number of decisions made in the last 9 months, there has been a corresponding substantial increase in the number of appeals being received. Delays in the preparation of claims for appeal are arising as a consequence and this is regretted. Invalidity pension section is now focussed on reducing the backlog in the appeals area. In addition, delays have developed in the processing of medical assessments and reviews due to a combination of factors including the increased workload for medical assessors and the reduced number of medical assessors due to retirements. The Department is addressing this issue and has recently run a competition to establish a new panel of medical assessors. Three new medical assessors were appointed from this panel and all commenced work in November 2012. It is expected that a further 8 medical assessors will be appointed from the panel in the near future.

With regard to the specific claim mentioned; this department received a claim for invalidity pension for the person concerned on 11 August 2011. The claim was disallowed on medical grounds and the person in question was notified of this decision and the reason for it on 13 February 2012.

The person concerned appealed the decision and sent in further medical evidence in support of the claim. This additional evidence, along with the original information, was referred for medical opinion on the 24 May 2012. It was evaluated by a different medical assessor on 21 January 2013 who has confirmed the opinion that the person concerned does not satisfy the medical criteria. Upon receipt of this opinion, the deciding officer forwarded all the relevant claim papers to the Social Welfare Appeals Office (SWAO) for determination on 11 February 2013. The SWAO will be in touch with the person in question directly regarding the progress of their appeal.